The five biggest hits of the 2012 season

(Al Bello/Getty)

For a team whose season will be defined by failures with runners in scoring position, the Yankees sure did seem to have a lot of enormous hits along the way. Especially late in the season too — September and October featured all sorts of memorable hits that injected new life into a team that was fighting tooth and nail for the division title down the stretch.

With some help from win probability added, or WPA, we’re going to take a look at New York’s five biggest hits of this season. If you’re not familiar with WPA, I highly recommend Joe’s primer. Long story short, it tells you how much an event — a hit, strikeout, walk, error, anything in baseball — increases or decreases a team’s chances of winning using historical data. For example, if the Yankees have a 50% chance of winning when I step to the plate and hit a walk-off homer (thus giving them a 100% chance of winning), I get credit for the +50% (0r +0.50 WPA) while the pitcher gets charged with +50% (-0.50 WPA). Simple enough, right?

Anyway, WPA isn’t a predictive stat and it doesn’t have a ton of analytical value. It lacks context like the quality of the pitcher and hitter, the impact of the game in the standings, stuff like that. It is useful for this kind of exercise though, a fun look back at some of the biggest hits of the season. You won’t be surprised to see that one player is featured prominently in this post.

April 11th: Nick Swisher vs. Kevin Gregg (WPA graph & box score) (video)
You wouldn’t know it from his playoff performance, but Swisher had a monster season with runners in scoring position. He hit .301/.406/.589 (164 wRC+) with eleven homers in 181 plate appearances in those situations, including a game-winning homer against the Orioles just six games into the season. The Yankees had tied the game at four on a Curtis Granderson single in the seventh, and score didn’t change until Swisher took Gregg’s full count hanging slider out to right-center. Eduardo Nunez had singled earlier in the inning but was picked off first, so his teammates — Mark Teixeira doubled ahead of the homer — picked him up. That was the last extra innings game Baltimore would lose in the regular season. WPA: +0.45

(Al Bello/Getty)

October 2nd: Raul Ibanez vs. Andrew Bailey (WPA graph & box score) (video)
The Yankees and Orioles were locked in a tight division race down the stretch, and a loss by New York in Game 161 would have had the two clubs tied atop the AL East heading into the final day of the regular season. The Red Sox took a two-run lead in the first inning off David Phelps and tacked on an insurance run with a solo homer in the ninth, so the Yankees had three outs to score two runs in the bottom of the inning. Andrew Bailey was on the mound to face Granderson, who only batted in the ninth inning because Brett Gardner got caught stealing to end the eighth. Curtis singled to right to lead things off, then Ibanez came off the bench to pinch-hit for Nunez. Bailey caught way too much of the plate with a 1-2 fastball, a pitch Raul hooked into the right field seats for a game-tying two-run homer. He went on to win the game with a walk-off ground ball single in the 12th inning — a hit that preserved the team’s one-game lead in the standings — but only the dinger cracks our list. WPA: +0.45

September 22nd: Ibanez vs. Pat Neshek (WPA graph & box score) (video)
A little less than two weeks prior to his heroics against the Red Sox, Ibanez came up huge in a big extra innings comeback against the Athletics. The two clubs were deadlocked at five after seven innings and stayed that way until the 13th, when Oakland unloaded on Freddy Garcia and Justin Thomas for three homers and four total runs. The Yankees were not going down without a fight though, as the first three hitters in the bottom of the inning singled to load the bases with no outs. The first run scored on a wild pitch and the second on a Nunez sacrifice fly, but it was Ibanez who did the honors of tying things up. Neshek, a right-handed submariner, left a 3-1 sinker right out over the plate, which Ibanez clubbed halfway up the second deck in right for another game-tying two-run homer, his second dinger of the game. The Yankees won the game on a walk-off error an inning later, which was all made possible by what was essentially the start of Raul turning into Mr. Big Hit down the stretch. It was the team’s biggest hit during the regular season. WPA: +0.46

October 10th: Ibanez vs. Jim Johnson (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Now we’re venturing into the postseason. The Yankees and Orioles couldn’t settle their differences during the regular season, so their season-long battle for AL East supremacy spilled over into the ALDS. The series was knotted at one and New York was on the verge of falling into a 2-1 hole in the ninth inning of Game Three. Baltimore had been nursing a 2-1 lead since the fifth inning and they had their All-Star closer on the mound with two outs to go, but Joe Girardi elected to remove Alex Rodriguez from the game to get the platoon matchup with Ibanez. Johnson left a 1-0 sinker up in the zone, right in Raul’s swing path, and he hammered it out to right-center for a game-tying solo blast. The pinch-hit worked to perfection, and a few innings later Ibanez won the game with a walk-solo homer into the second deck off lefty Brian Matusz. The first homer was the biggest though, bringing the Yankees from the brink of a loss to a tied ballgame. WPA: +0.47

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

October 13th: Ibanez vs. Jose Valverde (WPA graph & box score) (video)
Yeah, that’s right, Ibanez again. He really turned into Mr. Big Hit in the final few weeks of the season, and his most impactful hit of the year also happened to be one of his last. The Yankees had been stymied by the Tigers’ pitching staff in Game One of the ALCS, and they were down four runs heading into the ninth. Valverde had been very hittable in recent weeks, and he let New York get on the board with an Ichiro Suzuki two-run homer with one out in the bottom of the inning. Robinson Cano followed with a strikeout for the second out, but Teixeira worked a tough eight-pitch walk to bring the tying run to the plate. Ibanez wasted no time against Valverde, sabotaging a hanging 0-1 splitter for yet another game-tying two-run homer to right. There was nothing to be said at this point, Raul had rendered everyone speechless. He had been giving the Yankees new life time after time down the stretch, and he did so again in the ALCS opener. Just amazing. WPA: +0.49

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The Yankees had four other hits register at +.40 WPA or higher this season (links go to video): Derek Jeter‘s solo homer off Casey Janssen in late-August (+0.44), Ibanez’s three-run homer off Felix Hernandez in early-May (+0.43), Jayson Nix’s three-run double off Shawn Kelley in late-July (+0.42), and Teixeira’s two-run homer off Vicente Padilla in late-July (+0.41). As you’ve probably noticed, the biggest WPA swings occur when a hit turns a deficit into a tie game (or a lead), which is why homers that break a tie — Russell Martin vs. Johnson in ALDS Game One or Ibanez vs. Matusz in ALDS Game Three — usually only register in the +.35-ish range. Swisher’s homer off Gregg scored higher because it gave the team a two-run lead, not just one like Martin’s off Johnson.

Subjectively speaking, I think the Ibanez homer off Johnson in Game Three of the ALDS was the biggest hit of the season. The homer off Valverde was crazy clutch, but the Yankees went on to lose the game and that took some of the shine off it. All Raul did was delay the inevitable. That game-tying homer against the Orioles was something to behold though, and it stands out even more because Ibanez ended the game with another homer a few innings later. That’s just my opinion though, you’re welcome to feel that another hit was the biggest of the season.

Montgomery continues to pile up strikeouts in Arizona

I usually run the updates on Sundays, but there was still enough news trickling in following the end of the season that I decided to push everything back a day. Should be back to normal next week. Just as a reminder, the Arizona Fall League is an extreme hitter’s environment, so take the stat lines with a grain of salt.

AzFL Scottsdale (11-3 loss to Surprise) Tuesday’s game
RF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 1 R, 1 BB
2B David Adams: 1-4, 1 R, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
RHP Zach Nuding: 1.2 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 29 of 51 pitches were strikes (57%) … yikes, that’s bad even for the AzFL
RHP Dellin Betances: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 0/1 GB/FB — 23 of 39 pitches were strikes (59%)
RHP Dan Burawa: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 4/0 GB/FB — 17 of 27 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Ramiro Mendoza


It’s been six years since he last pitched in affiliated baseball, but right-hander Ramiro Mendoza told Jose Pineda that he hopes to play for Panama in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. “It’s a source of pride for me,” said the former Yankees swingman, who has been training with his home country’s squad. “It’s a great honor to wear Panama’s uniform. I want to do it here, in front of my fans and I hope it’s not the last time.”

Mendoza, 40, pitched in the 2009 WBC and spent that summer with the independent Newark Bears, but he hasn’t been in the big leagues since his ill-fated second stint in pinstripes in 2005. He was a valuable arm and generally underappreciated part of the late-90s dynasty, pitching to a 3.48 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 698.2 innings and 277 appearances (57 starts) from 1996-2002 before joining with the Red Sox and promptly falling apart. Mendoza was the original Embedded Yankee.

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Here is your open thread for the evening. The Giants and Cardinals are playing Game Seven of the NLCS (Cain vs. Lohse, 8pm ET on FOX), and the Monday Night Football game is the Lions at the Bears (8:30pm ET on ESPN). Talk about those games or any other non-politics topic right here.

Cashman on Pineda: “We’re talking June of next year”

Via ESPN NY: Brian Cashman provided a brief update on injured right-hander Michael Pineda during a recent radio appearance. “We have to keep him off our radar for now,” said the GM. “We’re talking June of next year … the second half of next year.”

Pineda, 23, had surgery to repair a torn labrum on May 1st of this year and his target return date was one year out of surgery. The last real update we’ve had on his rehab progress came in mid-June (other than the DUI), when we heard he was on target to start throwing in mid-September. Frankly, it’s not all that surprising that his return will take a little longer than expected — it’s a major surgery and they’ll obviously be conservative. Either way, the Yankees would be wise to proceed under the assumption that Pineda will contribute nothing next year. Anything they get out of him is a bonus.

What Went Right: Postseason Pitching

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.


As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.

The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.

CC Sabathia
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.

Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.

Andy Pettitte
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.


Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.

Phil Hughes
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.

The Bullpen
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.

Jones blames second half on finger injury, wants to play four more years

Via George King: Andruw Jones blamed his miserable second half on a finger injury suffered after the All-Star break. “I did it diving for a ball against Toronto at home,” he said. “Hands and fingers are tough.”

The Yankees played the Blue Jays in the second series after the break, which I guess is when it happened. Either way, the 34-year-old Jones hit .244/.326/.535 with eleven homers in the first half before dropping down to .142/.256/.255 with three homers in the second half. He was so bad, even against lefties, that the Yankees left him off the playoff roster. Jones also told King that he hopes to play another four years, but I doubt any of them will be in the Bronx.

What Went Wrong: Postseason Offense

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

There is still baseball being played but the Yankees are not involved in any of it. They were bounced from the postseason in an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Tigers in the ALCS last week, a very one-sided series that featured little offense by New York. They scored six runs in the four games and never once held a lead, which is unthinkable for an offense that led the AL in homers (245), ISO (.188), OBP (.337), SLG (.453), OPS (.790), wOBA (.342), and wRC+ (113). Everything that could have gone wrong offensively did.

All told, the Yankees hit just .188/.254/.303 in their nine postseason games, the lowest batting average in history by a team who played at least seven playoff games. It wasn’t just the ALCS either, they had a hard time scoring in the ALDS even though they won the series. The so-called Bombers scored just 22 runs in the nine games, and nine of those runs came in two innings — five in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One and four in the ninth inning of ALCS Game One. After scoring those four runs off Jose Valverde in Game One last Saturday, the Yankees scored just two runs on ten hits in the final 30.1 innings of their season.

Offensive ineptitude of this caliber requires a total team effort. Ichiro Suzuki was a singles machine in the postseason and Derek Jeter did is part before going down with a fractured ankle in ALCS Game One, plus Raul Ibanez hit enough jaw-droppingly clutch homers to avoid any criticism. The rest of the lineup? Not so much.

Robinson Cano
Of all the offensive failure, Cano’s miserable postseason was by far the most surprising. He was once again the team’s best hitter during the year and he finished the regular season on an insane hot streak (24-for-39, .615), but he was invisible in the playoffs. Cano doubled in two runs in that big ninth inning off Jim Johnson in ALDS Game One and he doubled in a run in the first inning of ALDS Game Two, and that was pretty much it. He fell into a hideous 0-for-29 slide that featured weak grounder after weak grounder, and it wasn’t until the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three that he got off the schneid with a line drive single to left.

Robbie reached base four times in 41 postseason plate appearances, adding an intentional walk to those two ALDS doubles and ALCS single. His .098 OBP is the lowest in playoff history (min. 35 PA) while his .075 AVG is the fourth lowest. Cano has had an up-and-down playoff career but this kind of ineffectiveness was unthinkable. He was, by far, the biggest drain on the team’s offense. There’s no doubt about it.

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

Alex Rodriguez & Eric Chavez
I’m going to lump these two together because they shared third base duties during the postseason. A-Rod struggled after coming off the DL in September and it carried over into the postseason, as he went 1-for 12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the ALDS. Things got so bad that Joe Girardi famously lifted Alex for a pinch-hitter in ALDS Game Three, leading to two of those memorable Ibanez homers (first the game-tying shot, then the game-winner in extra innings).

A-Rod did not start the decisive Game Five of the ALDS and did not start the final two games of the ALCS. He started six of nine playoff games but did not finish three, instead being lifted for pinch-hitters against right-handed pitchers late and for good reason — Alex went 0-for-18 with a dozen strikeouts against same-side hitters in the postseason. All told, he had three singles and two walks against those 12 strikeouts in 27 playoff appearances.

The decision to lift A-Rod for pinch-hitters or outright bench him against righties was completely justifiable due to his performance, but Chavez didn’t exactly force the issue. He failed to reach base in 17 playoff plate appearances, striking out nine times. All told, the Yankees received an .086/.135/.086 batting line out of their third basemen in 37 postseason plate appearances. A-Rod drew the boos and got all the media attention,  but he wasn’t even the worst performer at his own position.

Nick Swisher
Unfortunately poor postseasons became a routine during Swisher’s stint in New York, a stint that will almost surely end after four years this winter. He opened these playoffs with a very productive ALDS Game One, drawing two walks to go along with a single and a sacrifice fly. After that, he went 2-for-28 (.071) with a walk and nine strikeouts the rest of the way. One of those hits was a run-scoring double in ALCS Game Four, which had zero impact in the grand scheme of things. Swisher hit .167/.235/.233 in the team’s nine playoff games and will likely leave the Yankees with a .162/.252/.308 batting line in 148 postseason plate appearances with the club.

Curtis Granderson
Granderson came into the year as a postseason monster, with a .267/.375/.535 overall playoff batting line and a .313/.459/.583 playoff line with the Yankees. He was instead a non-factor this year, going just 3-for-30 (.100) with one homer and three walks (one intentional) in the nine postseason games. Two of those hits came in consecutive at-bats in ALDS Game Five. Like Swisher, he was benched for one ALCS game in favor of Brett Gardner. Curtis struck out an insane 16 times in 33 playoff plate appearances, so basically half the time. It’s impossible to be productive when you don’t put the ball in play, and Granderson’s strikeout issues became extreme in October.

Russell Martin
Unlike the other guys in the post, Martin at least had a signature moment this postseason. He hit the go-ahead homer off Johnson in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One, a hugely clutch shot that gets forgotten because the Yankees went on score another four runs in the inning to turn the game into a laugher. It was a big homer, don’t forget it. That said, Martin went just 5-for-31 (.161) with the homer, a double, and three walks in the postseason (.235 OBP). He reached base twice in the ALCS and three times in the team’s final six playoff games. Martin was up and down all season (mostly down), and outside of the homer he was contributed little to a postseason offense that needed substantially more from these six players.